16 Worthwhile Things to Do in Cologne, Germany
Planning a trip to Cologne? Keep reading to find out all the best things to do in Cologne Germany.
As one of Germany’s most important cities, Cologne is a city-break-worthy destination that packs a punch. Best known for its stunning Cathedral- the largest in Europe- quality museums, a rich history, and a carnival, Cologne is one of the best places to visit in Germany.
Flattened by WWII bombs, it’s safe to say that it’s made quite the recovery. Among its charming streets, you’ll find a beautiful Old Town, the world-class Gothic Cathedral as well as 12 Romanesque Churches that made it a center of pilgrimage many years ago.
Today modern Cologne is also known for its fun carnival, the local beer, and a plethora of modern museums. There are also many great places to eat, hip boutiques to shop in, and chic cafes to grab a coffee. Let’s jump into the best Cologne Germany things to do.
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Wonderful Things to Do in Cologne
Cologne is one of Germany’s largest and most visited cities. While it was heavily bombed and destroyed by the allies during the second world war, there’s still very much history, culture, and things to do in Cologne today.
Here’s a rundown of the 16 best things to do in Cologne so you can plan the perfect city itinerary.
Savor Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom)
Standing tall in the center of Cologne is the Köln Dom or Cathedral, Germany’s most visited landmark. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, the cathedral is a symbol of German Catholicism and Gothic architecture.
Dating back to the 13th Century, the cathedral took more than 600 years to build before it was finally completed in 1880. Modeled around the Amiens Cathedral in France, the Latin cross-shaped structure contains many pieces of art, fine stained-glass windows, and some of the best surviving examples of Gothic architecture.
Visiting the magnificent Cologne cathedral is free. Inside the historic building, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the heaven-bound columns, tall arches, and ribbed ceilings. The most exquisite treasure inside the cathedral is the Shrine of the Three Kings, a solid gold casket said to contain relics of the Magi.
If you have the time it’s also worth heading up to the cathedral bell tower where you’ll get 360-degree, panoramic views of Cologne- a brilliant place to watch the sunset.
Go for a Walk over Hohenzollern Bridge (Hohenzollernbrücke)
Hohenzollern bridge is probably Cologne’s most famous bridge. The three-arched steel structure was originally built between 1907 and 1911 only to be destroyed towards the end of the war in 1945 to limit access into the city of Cologne. The bridge was rebuilt again and is open to train, bike, and pedestrian traffic only.
One of the best things about taking a walk across the love lock bridge is the views you can get of the Cathedral. If you’re looking for a really great photo opportunity- there are some real gems on this bridge.
You’ll also find quite a few love padlocks over the bridge and even though these add weight to the bridge over time, Cologne is one of the only European cities where these padlocks haven’t been removed.
Wander Around the Old Town
Going for a walk around Cologne’s Old Town (Altstadt) is a must when it comes to the best things to do in Cologne. Not only will a walk around help you get your bearings but you’ll also be able to discover Cologne’s prettiest sector.
The Old Town has countless things to see. Cobblestone alleyways that snake around the Old Town, galleries, cafes, restaurants, and of course traditional half-timber houses, now the home of Cologne’s best beer halls.
Some of the best things to see in the Old Town are Cologne’s Town Hall (Rathaus), Alter markt and Heumarkt squares, and the colorful buildings of Fischmarkt. Around every corner lurks a prettier street so make sure to give some time to wandering around and exploring all the best corners of Cologne.
If you prefer a guided city tour instead of just walking around by yourself, then there are plenty to choose from. Opt for this Old Town Highlights Walking Tour to explore the old town and Cologne Cathedral with a local guide.
For a similar Old Town and Cathedral Tour with a chance to take the local Kölsch beer click here.
Visit Great St. Martin Church
When wandering around the Old Town, it’s fairly impossible not to notice the towering Romanesque structure of Great St. Martin Church. The church is one of twelve historic Romanesque churches in Cologne, celebrated for their strong and bulky-looking architectural style.
Great St. Martin was originally built in the 10th Century, and its foundations placed on the remnants of a Roman chapel. The church was rebuilt quite a few times throughout its history, firstly after a devastating fire in the 12th Century and then after the World War II bombing.
The church has quite a few classical, Byzantine, and also Baroque influences which can be seen through the internal and external architecture. While impressive enough from the outside, make sure to have a quick peek inside too.
Some other Romanesque churches in Cologne also worth visiting are St. Maria im Kapitol and St. Maria Lyskirchen which are both nearby, in the Old Town.
Take in the Views from Köln Triangle
While walking along the Rhine you might notice, the Köln Triangle, a 103-metre-tall building on Cologne’s right bank. The building is mostly filled with office space which isn’t too exciting, but, at its summit is an observation deck with the best views of Cologne.
Admission to the top of Köln Triangle cost €8, and you’ll have prime views of Hohenzollern Bridge, Cologne Cathedral, and the whole of the right bank. On a clear day, you can see for miles and the views are really breathtaking.
If you can, try to make your way up to the observation deck for sunset. The sun sets behind Cologne Cathedral making for a really spectacular golden view when the weather cooperates.
Things to Do in Cologne: Visit the Chocolate Museum
The Chocolate Museum (Schokoladenmuseum) in Cologne is one of the most popular museums, especially for families and those with a sweet tooth. It’s the perfect opportunity to learn about the history of chocolate in Europe, and how it’s cultivated as well as sample some of the best chocolate in Cologne.
So how did a chocolate museum come about in Germany? The museum was founded by German chocolatier Hans Imhoff who aspired to open a chocolate factory and museum. In 1972 he acquired the Stollwerck chocolate factory where he uncovered lots of broken machinery, materials, and other remnants of chocolate manufacturing.
Imhoff began preserving and restoring what he found and today this makes the base of the museum.
At the Chocolate museum, you can learn about how cocoa is grown and cultivated and discover the whole chocolate-making process from bean to bar. You’ll be able to uncover a whole world related to chocolate from antique boxes to a collection of molds.
The museum also runs workshops where you can design and make your own chocolate bar. Oh, and the real-life chocolate fountain is pretty impressive too. For chocolate lovers, this is one of the best things to do in Cologne.
The Chocolate Museum is one of Cologne’s most popular tourist attractions, especially at weekend. Get your entrance ticket online in advance here and avoid the long queues.
Try Kölsch Beer with a Brewery Visit
Cologne is famous for beer- not all beer but its own, very particular type of beer- kölsch. Kölsch is a light, pale and watery beer that’s strictly brewed in and around Cologne- no other beer qualifies as kölsch.
If you’re a beer fan then tasting kölsch is an absolute must when in Cologne. The perfect place to drink it is in a traditional beer hall and brewery. These are found all over the city but the best ones are in the Old Town, generally clustered around Buttermarkt as they are the most historical.
Gilden im Zims right by Heumarkt is know to be a great spot for drinking kölsch.
Kölsch is drunk in small, 200 ml glasses so don’t be surprised when you don’t see a pint glass at your table. Servers will keep refilling your glass until you put your beermat over the top which means you’ve had enough.
One of the best ways to try Kölsch and learn about Cologne’s beer culture and history is to go on a guided tour. The Cologne Brewery Tour with three tastings takes you to a few different breweries while also teaching you about the local beer culture and some of Cologne’s best legends. Book it ahead here– it’s likely to sell out.
Go for a Cruise on the River Rhine
See Cologne from a different perspective and opt for a relaxing Rhine river cruise. Sit down and relax for 90 minutes and float down the Rhine with a beer or coffee while learning all about Cologne and its major sites.
On the boat trip, you’ll be able to see some of Cologne’s most important sites which include the world-famous Cathedral, five city bridges, the L-shaped crane houses as well as the Old Town.
For more information and to book your tickets click here.
If you’re looking for another day trip idea then the city of Dusseldorf is a fun option. Located just 30 minutes train ride north of Cologne, Dusseldorf is an upscale city full of alternative things to do.
From upscale shopping and dining to modern architecture, there are plenty of fun and cultural things to do in Dusseldorf to fill the day.
Some of the best things to do in Dusseldorf include:
- Explore the Old Town
- Sip Altbier at a traditional beer hall- Zum Uerige is one of the best that’s been brewing since 1860.
- Take a walk along the Rhine on the Rhine Promenade.
- Sample the amazing food at Carlsplatz Market
- Hangout in the Japanese Quarter
- Check out contemporary art at Philara Collection and Kunstakademie.
- Check out the cool architecture at MedienHafen (Media Harbour)
- Summit the Rhine Tower for the best views of Dusseldorf
Visit Melaten Cemetery
One of the best and rather underrated things to do in Cologne is to visit Melaten Cemetery. Located just west of the Belgian Quarter, this cemetery has been around since the 13th Century. It’s a huge site, some 440 square meters with landscaped gardens, historic gravesites, and large, ornate monuments.
Several of Cologne’s most famous and noteworthy residents are laid to rest here, including politicians, actors, and artists.
To discover Melaten Cemetery with a tour, and all the background information you need, click here. It’s the perfect Cologne Germany things to do for the history buff.
Visit a Christmas Market
If you plan your trip to Cologne for the end of November or December- which I highly recommend you do- a must-visit are the Cologne Christmas Markets.
Known to be some of the best Christmas Markets in Germany, visiting Cologne’s Christmas markets is the best way to get the festive season started.